May 5, 2010— -- As the wrecked wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico continued to spew oil into the water for a 16th day, BP moved forward with a plan to cap the leak and, it hoped, stop the ecological and economic disaster.
BP said that it would have a giant, 100-ton dome-like device placed over the wellhead Thursday, which could begin to collect oil as soon as next Monday. Before that can happen, the dome will have to be connected to a drill ship that can collect the polluted water and oil.
Today, a 12-man crew was preparing the steel dome for its boat ride to the site of the disaster. A crane boat will be required to lift the dome and lower it to the ocean floor, though it's not certain that the device will work under the intense water pressures at the deep-water site.
BP also announced that it had successfully capped one of the three leaks at the site. Though that will not slow the flow of oil, BP said that it will make the collection work easier, going forward.
As Crews Wait for Oil to Hit, Has Dispersant Already Arrived on Beaches?
Back on the surface, the government and cleanup crews were continuing to prepare for the oil slick's landfall today. The some 7,900 people working to protect the shoreline had some reason for relief today, as NOAA suggested that the oil slick will likely move little in the next 72 hours.
But near the Chandeleur Islands, a remote chain of barrier islands in Eastern Louisiana, a different kind of man-made disaster could be seen mixed in the surf today.
Lapping up on shore and traveled to the islands today and saw a layer of brown slime carpeting the water. The slime, which is not as thick as oil, is thought to be the chemical dispersant that had been pumped down to the site of the leak to break up the oil before it reached the surface.
BP announced today that it will stop using the dispersant until environmental impact tests can be performed, but earlier, the company had suggested it believed the dispersant was safe.
BP executive Bob Fryar described the function of the chemical: "When the dispersant and the oil mix, it just breaks the oil into smaller molecules, and the oil just breaks into smaller droplets. [...] At that time, the ocean just takes over and it just degrades naturally."
Biologists and conservationists still worried, as dolphins swam just yards away from the floating muck.
Investigators Look Into Turtle Deaths
Further east along the Gulf Coast, wildlife officials are still trying to determine how some 35 endangered sea turtles died. Necropsies have not turned up any signs of oil, and federal investigators are now questioning whether fishermen could be responsible for the deaths, according to a representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The law requires fishermen to use nets equipped with turtle excluder devices, intended to allow endangered sea turtles to escape from harm. The netting can reduce a fisherman's catch, so investigators are said to be trying to determine if fishermen abandoned the devices in order to haul in more fish and shrimp before the oil slick hits.
Fishermen in Mississippi rejected that suggestion today, telling the AP that they wouldn't abandon the nets out of fear of harsh fines.
"It's bull, straight bull," said shrimper Jim Rowell to the AP. "The commercial fishermen are the best environmentalists out here."
Thousands of fishermen are already out of work because of the spill. A large community of Vietnamese-American shrimpers who have been stopped by the spill are among several groups considering a class-action lawsuit.
Estimates have put the damages due to the spill in the billions, even before any sizeable amount of oil has hit land. Today, Florida tourism officials were trying to dispel the thought that its beaches had already been sullied by the oil.
"We are not two or three days away from it hitting shore," David Halstead, Florida's emergency management chief, told the AP. "The beaches are still open."
They may be open for now, but the anxiety and anger continue to grow as the Gulf Coast prepares for the oil's eventual landfall.
ABC's Clayton Sandell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.